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With one game remaining, a Saturday contest at Madison Square Garden against last place St. John’s, Ed Cooley’s dream of 10 Big East wins is within reach. As PC holds the tie-breakers over any other team that could also finish 10-8, a win would clinch fourth place and put the Friars into a 4-5 game in the Big East Tournament next week, a game in which PC could very well see the Bluejays again.
That the Friars found a way to win against Creighton is testament to their grit. Against DePaul, PC shot the ball as well as they had all Big East season, and ran away from the Blue Demons, 87-66. Against Creighton, the Friars reverted to their cold-shooting ways, and as a result, found themselves in a dogfight to the end.
Fortunately for Providence, Kris Dunn seemed healthy and showed signs of his old, energetic ways in stifling point guard Maurice Watson and getting to the basket. He was aided by scoring machine Ben Bentil and enough Friars not named Dunn and Bentil stepped up just enough to make plays that put PC over the top.
The Friars were particularly cold from the field in the first half and an over-reliance on three-point attempts ground the offense to a crawl. PC was 1-13 (7 percent) on threes in the half and Creighton assumed a 19-17 lead on a Isaiah Zierden three. Jalen Lindsey was effective inside early with 8 points but was limited by two fouls and the Jays took advantage of his absence down the stretch. With two minutes left, a Cole Huff jumper gave the Bluejays a 27-25 lead and Malik Albert followed with a layup. When Rodney Bullock missed badly on a three, Creighton had the ball for the last possession and James Milliken made PC pay by nailing a three with a few seconds left for a 32-28 halftime lead.
Fans who were expecting a Friar romp began getting nervous as Creighton built an early second half lead. The Bluejays extended their lead to 43-35 on a three by Huff before the Friars began clawing their way back. Led by Bentil, who scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half, PC began executing its offense better over the final 12 minutes or so. With 10:14 on the clock, PC finally caught Creighton at 49-all on a Bentil three.
PC grabbed the lead on a Bullock layup and a Dunn three point play. With a chance to extend the lead, Bentil, Dunn and Lindsey missed quick jumpers on consecutive possessions and the Jays tied 55-all on a Zierden three-pointer. Two free throws by Lindsey and a big three by Bentil pushed PC out again but Milliken drove hard to the rim for a layup and Watson hit a spinning layup to pull within two.
With 2:48 to play, Bentil hit one of two free throws for a 62-59 lead and after two good three point looks by Huff and Milliken that missed, Bentil drained a huge corner three for a 65-59 lead with 1:20 left. PC was not out of the woods yet, though, Huff hit a midrange jumper, but Kyron Cartwright sank two free throws and then missed two free throws after a Creighton miss. Bentil sealed the win with two freebies with 27 seconds left for a 69-61 lead and the Friars were home free.
For the second straight game, PC used a full court zone press to speed up tempo and turn Creighton over. Watson and Albert were capable, speedy ballhandlers and largely avoided crippling turnovers but the press provided less time for Creighton to run their half-court offense. The Jays shot 50 percent in the first half and just 33 percent in the second, although Milliken (26 points) and Albert found success rolling to the basket on dribble drives. Creighton also hit 12-12 free throws but were outshot from the line, 15-6 in the second half. Greg McDermott’s big men, Geoffrey Groselle, Zach Hanson and Toby Hegner were all in deep foul trouble throughout the game, which enabled PC to win the rebound battle 36-34. In fact, Creighton had just 5 offensive boards. They either hit shots or were one-and-done.
PC shot 22-29 from the free throw line, although uncharacteristic misses by Bentil kept PC from gaining late separation. Bentil did have 27 points on 9-21 shooting and 10 boards. Dunn, meanwhile, took advantage of his height and posted Creighton’s guards up, scoring 17 points, with 6 boards and 6 assists. Lindsey, meanwhile, played another solid game, contributing 13 points. As a team, though, PC shot 4-24 from three and 39 percent overall.
The Friars complete their regular season on Saturday at the Garden against St. John’s.